Passenger Transport - July 11, 2014
(Print All Articles)


Senate, House Committees Approve HTF Extensions

As Passenger Transport went to press, on July 10 both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee voted for legislation that would extend the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), including the Mass Transit Account. The House bill is scheduled to come to the floor the week of July 14.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) made changes to the committee's bill so it conforms more closely with the version proposed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).

Both the House and Senate proposals make available approximately $10.8 billion for the Highway Account ($8.8 billion) and Mass Transit Account ($2 billion) of the HTF. 

More information is available in APTA's Legislative Alert.


HTF: Running on Empty? House, Senate Take Different Approaches

As members of Congress eye the calendar for their August recess and as MAP-21 nears its expiration on Sept. 30, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are working to advance agreements to prevent the pending insolvency of the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), estimated to occur in August, with the Mass Transit Account running dry as early as October.

“Members of Congress must act before they leave for their month-long recess in August if the industry is going to avoid a slowdown in payments, which will stall or stop public transportation infrastructure ­projects throughout the country,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced legislation in the House (H.R. 5021) that would raise about $10.7 billion through “pension smoothing” (which allows employers to delay contributions to employee pension plans, thus increasing companies’ taxable income and generating additional tax revenue), extending some custom fees, and transferring money from the Leaking Underground ­Storage Tank Trust Fund.

Camp says his proposal would fund the HTF through May 2015, adding that his funding approaches have been used by Congress in the past. He announced that the committee would mark up the bill on July 10, after Passenger Transport went to press. (See APTA's Legislative Alert for the latest details.)

The Senate Finance Committee is tentatively scheduled to mark up its version of the bill on July 10 as well. Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that he and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are moving forward on a short-term patch for the fund by using various tax-related reforms. “We are making progress on avoiding a shutdown that, in my view, would cost our country tens of thousands of jobs,” Wyden said at a July 8 press conference. “When there is so much concern about wages, transportation jobs often pay very strong living wages that support families.”

Hatch said both sides of the aisle want to develop a bipartisan solution. “We’re really trying to work in a bipartisan way, and I hope we can,” he said.

The Senate proposal is expected to result in a three-month extension through Dec. 31, raising about $8.2 billion for the HTF and its Mass Transit Account and giving Congress additional time to develop a long-term bill in a lame duck session.

See additional stories in this issue of Passenger Transport.

Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 Turns 50; APTA Calls on Congress to Fund HTF

APTA marked the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) of 1964 on July 9 by noting the achievements of public transportation over the past five decades while urging Congress to take action to address the Highway Trust Fund’s looming shortfall and solve the nation’s long-term transportation investment needs.

UMTA, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created the program for federal investment in public transportation systems by providing grants and loans to local transportation systems. The federal, state, local, and private partnership was key to revitalizing public transit systems that were declining due to disinvestment, and it created an oversight agency that eventually became FTA. The legislation provided $375 million over three years.

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy released the following statement:

“Fifty years ago today, Congress took a visionary step in authorizing federal funding for public transportation that has ushered in public transit services that now provide 10.7 billion trips annually and have spurred economic growth for our communities and nation. APTA calls on Congress to ­continue this legacy and take decisive action to address the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account shortfalls this month and work toward passage of a multi-year, well-funded transportation bill in the coming months.

“Just like 1964, it’s time for Congress to demonstrate leadership through a ­significant, sustained investment in public transportation so that future ­generations of Americans can rely on public transportation to provide mobility, build communities, and power economic opportunity.”

To further commemorate the anniversary and stress the importance of congressional leadership, APTA’s recent Washington event, Transportation ­Tuesday, featured numerous speakers, including FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan; Richard ­Sarles, general manager and chief executive officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA); consultant and former DOT Deputy Secretary Mortimer Downey; Sherry Little, partner and co-founder, Spartan Solutions LLC, and former FTA acting administrator; and J. Barry Barker, executive director, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY.

McMillan described the conditions that led to UMTA: Public transit ridership declined by 50 percent between 1950 and 1960, a period when private operators could not make a profit while personal automobile sales soared. “UMTA was the first national recognition of the daily trials of urban commuters,” she said, “and subsequently we saw enormous benefits—not just to cities.”

She mentioned the “tremendous gains” related to the program, including the importance of public transit in rebuilding cities after catastrophic storms and supporting billions of dollars in development.

Sarles said that early in his career, he worked on the first intermodal facility funded by UMTA. He noted the importance of UMTA and later FTA in developing “a cohesive, integrated system” during his career with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New Jersey Transit Corporation before joining WMATA.

Also offering brief remarks were ­Frederick G. (Bud) Wright, executive director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Kevin McCarty, assistant executive director, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Tom Downs, chair, WMATA board, and longtime public transportation leader; Anne Canby, director, OneRail Coalition; and Bob Skinner, executive director, Transportation Research Board.


Therese McMillan

Photos by
Mitchell Wood

Richard Sarles 

J. Barry Barker 



President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Urban Mass Transportation Act. George W. Anderson, executive vice president of the American Transit Association, a predecessor to APTA, was among those in attendance.

UMTA’s 1964 Signing: Transit Hails a ‘New Era’

Passenger Transport reported on President Johnson’s signing of UMTA as the publication of the American Transit Association (ATA), a parent organization of APTA.

ATA President Edward A. Pellissier said the law “heralds the approach of a new era for the transit industry in our nation. We are indebted to the President . . . and to the Congress of the United States for recognizing the essentiality of preserving, developing, and expanding our transit systems across the country by taking appropriate action to insure the continuance of transit services for the welfare of the American people and the economy of our cities, states, and nation.

“The transit industry must now assume the burden of convincing those who were in disagreement as to the importance of and vital need for this program of legislative aid to transit through intelligent and constructive application of its provisions.”

The times may be different, but the importance of winning over public transportation’s critics remains the same.

RIPTA’s R-Line: First Rapid Bus in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island ­Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), Providence, recently instituted service on its first rapid bus line. The R-Line replaces the two regular fixed routes with the highest ridership in the state and provides about 11,000 passenger trips each weekday—about 20 percent of overall RIPTA ridership.

Opening-day ridership was 3,346, 8.6 percent above the same routes the week before. RIPTA uses the term “rapid bus” instead of BRT for the ­service because, while it has many BRT features, it does not operate in a dedicated right-of-way.

“RIPTA’s R-Line is a great new service that will allow RIPTA to operate more efficiently and will provide a better level of service for our passengers,” said Chief Executive Officer Raymond Studley. “This service will improve the transit experience for nearly 11,000 passengers per day with public art, improved waiting areas, new wayfinding at every stop, improved hours of service, and faster trip times due to transit signal prioritization. A true collaboration between RIPTA and the city of Providence, the R-Line is a culmination of years of planning and research to create a customer-oriented transit experience.”

In attendance at the opening cere­monies were Rhode Island Gov. ­Lincoln Chafee, Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and ­Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Reps. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and David Cicilline (D-RI), Studley, and other public transit and community leaders.

The seven-mile R-Line corridor connects Pawtucket and South Providence with downtown Providence, with service every 10 minutes during the day and every 20 minutes at night. It operates with Rhode Island’s first traffic signal priority system and 56 bus stops, spaced one-quarter mile apart.

RIPTA partnered with the city of Providence to implement bus stop, streetscape, and public art enhancements along the R-Line corridor. The city worked with neighborhood stakeholders and cultural organizations to develop artistic themes that echo the identity and cultural heritage of the two major streets served by the line: North Main Street, “Living with History,” and Broad Street, “Experiencing World Cultures.”

FTA, the cities of Providence and Pawtucket, and RIPTA provided the $4.2 million capital cost of the project. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, provided planning funds through a Transportation Corridors to Livable Communities Grant.


RIPTA Board Chairman Scott Avedisian, also mayor of Warwick, RI, speaks at launch ceremonies for the agency's R-Line rapid bus service. 

Crawford Hotel to Open at Denver Union Station

The next step in the rebirth of Denver Union Station is about to begin with the July 12 opening of the 112-room Crawford Hotel and several new stores and restaurants in the station building.

The renovation of Union Station, including the opening of the hotel, is part of the Denver Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) multi-year FasTracks program, which also includes several new light rail lines and the scheduled launch of commuter rail in 2016.

RTD has entered into a complex ­partnership with the Denver Union ­Station Project Authority, along with leasing and other firms, to bring restaurants and other businesses to the first floor of the station.

“We are excited to share Denver’s Union Station with the Crawford Hotel and all of the exciting restaurant and retail options inside. It is a fantastic offering for those traveling with RTD to have so much available to them as they arrive in Denver,” said General Manager Phillip Washington. “This project is an exciting addition to Colorado as a whole and really a fantastic example of what a public-private partnership can offer to a city.”

The hotel—named in honor of urban preservationist and Union Station partner Dana Crawford—occupies the upper floors of the north and south wings of the station. Each floor offers a distinct design theme for its guest rooms: the second-floor “Pullman” rooms provide a modern version of the Art Deco private sleeping cars of train travel; the third-floor “Classic” rooms, inspired by the station’s origins in the Victorian area, offer high ceilings and expansive windows; and the contemporary “Loft” rooms on the top floor, the station’s former attic, echo the appearance of the surrounding Lower Downtown neighborhood with exposed wood timbers and high vaulted ceilings. Art throughout the hotel showcases Colorado artists.

The station’s great hall also serves as the hotel’s main entrance and lobby. Guests can even check in online using their mobile phones before they leave their RTD light rail vehicle or Amtrak train. In addition, hotel guests can order room service from the restaurants located on the first floor of the station.

The original Union Station opened in 1881 and underwent extensive rebuilding after a fire in 1894. An exterior redesign in 1914 brought the structure to its current appearance. As a newly renovated transit center, it is a cornerstone of RTD’s expansion. RTD held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May to open the new bus concourse of the multimodal facility and plans a grand opening celebration for the station later this month. 

Photo by Ellen Jaskol
The "Pullman" rooms in the new Crawford Hotel take their inspiration from private sleeping cars on Art Deco-era trains.

Public Transit: Bigger than Google

At the recent Mineta Transportation Institute’s Finance Policy Summit, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy said that APTA’s recommendations for a new surface transportation bill would lead to 1.1 million jobs created or maintained because of increased productivity, job access, and connectivity. The APTA plan “would spark $66 billion in annual business sales—more than the annual retained earnings of Google,” Melaniphy said during a panel presentation. Melaniphy, far left, and other members of the institute’s Board of Trustees, including Founder Norman Mineta, fifth from right, retired DOT secretary, and Executive Director Rod Diridon, center, met with summit keynote, FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan, sixth from right.

Harbour, Acting CEO, Sound Transit

The Sound Transit Board of Directors in Seattle has designated Deputy Chief Executive Officer Mike Harbour as acting CEO while Joni Earl is on medical leave. Harbour has been deputy CEO since October 2012.

“Joni supports this board action to keep Sound Transit focused on moving forward,” Harbour said. “We are very well positioned to continue making critical investments in the region’s transportation system. I am honored to step into this role until Joni returns and want to relay her appreciation for our support as she recovers.”

Bobit Dies; Founder of METRO Magazine

Ed Bobit, 86, founder and chairman of Bobit Business Media, publisher of METRO Magazine and other trade publications, died June 29.

Bobit launched his first publication, Automotive Fleet, in 1961. His son Ty has served as chief executive officer since 2007, and his oldest grandson joined the company in 2010.

COTA Zooms to the Boom

The Central Ohio Transit Agency held its annual Red, White, and BOOM! event on July 3, its largest service day of the year. Tens of thousands of central Ohio residents and visitors rode COTA buses to enjoy the Independence Day celebration.


Menendez: Public Transportation Is an Economic Engine

“Public transportation has become an important economic engine in today’s society—creating jobs, connecting communities, and driving productivity,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) wrote in a post at APTA's blog honoring the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) and the ­continuing role of public transit in the marketplace.

UMTA demonstrated “America’s commitment to investing in our nation’s infrastructure and providing affordable, safe, and accessible transportation for all citizens,” he wrote, adding that the law included a federal capital grant program to match local investments and created the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, ­precursor of the current FTA.

Now, 50 years later, public transportation access creates economic hubs across the nation. Menendez mentioned the role of New Jersey Transit Corporation’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in reviving both economic and cultural activity in downtown Jersey City. He cited APTA statistics showing that each dollar invested in public transportation yields approximately four dollars in economic returns—which benefit all members of the ­community, whether they ride ­public transit or not. Also, every $1 billion spent annually on ­public transportation capital projects leads to the creation of 15,900 jobs, and every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation results in $30 million in increased business sales.

“Expanded public transportation infrastructure is also a positive catalyst for productivity,” he continued, “allowing riders to easily travel from one area to another and providing businesses with broader access to diverse labor markets. Take a ride on a train today and you’ll see people on their laptops, phones, and tablet devices, managing their day-to-day work flow and tackling projects at the start and end of their days.”

The senator called on ­Congress to listen to its constituents and provide comprehensive funding for ­public transportation, including shoring up the Highway Trust Fund.

“Without a clear path to sustained funding, public transportation providers will have no choice but to make major budget cuts, decrease existing route options, limit needed refurbishment work, and hold off on investments in new projects. Current funding levels are completely inadequate to build and maintain world-class transit infrastructure. Our constituents and our communities deserve better,” he stated.

Grassroots Advocates Speak Out to Representatives on Capitol Hill

What happens when thousands of public transportation advocates send the same message at the same time to members of Congress?

You get Congress’ attention, says APTA President & CEO Michael ­Melaniphy: “When elected officials hear directly from their constituents, it personalizes the benefits of public transportation. These public transit advocates can articulate the positive impact these essential transportation systems have on their lives, their community and our nation’s future.”
Melaniphy is referring to those advocates who have signed on to APTA’s program, Voices for Public Transit, a national bipartisan grassroots movement of advocates who support public transportation and infrastructure investment. Participants in this grassroots effort have sent more than 11,600 letters to ­Capitol Hill, where they were distributed to 531 congressional offices.
Established in December 2013, Voices for Public Transit is a major component of APTA’s national ongoing advocacy campaign, “Where Public Transportation Goes, Community Grows.”

Some 76,000 activists have already signed up for Voices at APTA's website for public transit riders and advocates. Once they sign up, they can access a microsite devoted specifically to the program, which offers a petition supporting public transportation investment, an opportunity to share public transit stories, and easy ways to contact Congress. The site also encourages further engagement on social media, at local events, and in local media, along with targeted facts demonstrating the role of public transit in building and expanding communities.

APTA’s larger advocacy campaign, “Where Public Transportation Goes, Community Grows,” has two overarching goals: to broaden support and show the value of public transportation in local communities and throughout the country, and to create a favorable environment for increased investment in public transportation as MAP-21 expires Sept. 30.

The campaign emphasizes direct communications with national and local ­policymakers while building a strong advocate base of public transit ­riders, supporters, and other stakeholders. It also features an integrated outreach effort with emphasis on public relations efforts, advertising, grassroots outreach, and social media tools.

A toolkit available here to public transit professionals and business members provides a variety of campaign resources, such as ads tailored to bus-only, rail-only, and multimodal systems, in formats for print, electronic media, bus shelters, and bus interiors or exteriors. Additional items summarize APTA’s recommendations for a federal surface transportation authorization bill after MAP-21 expires Sept. 30.

Tick, Tick, Tick . . .

As the clock ticks on the pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund and its Mass Transit Account, DOT recently updated two “tickers” that track the funding remaining in each account and estimate the day each account runs dry.

As those dates near—August for the HTF and as early as October for the Mass Transit Account—DOT has announced a cash-management plan to allocate reimbursements to states for infrastructure projects in proportion to each state’s federal formula apportionment in the fiscal year. For details, see APTA's Legislative Alert.

Click here to see the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account tickers, updated on July 1.

Read All About It! Editorials Call for Increased Taxes to Fund HTF

Dozens of recent newspaper editorials called for funding the HTF, investing in transportation infrastructure, and increasing the gas tax, drawing the connection between diminished transportation investments and the stagnant gas tax with stalled local economies, job loss, and delayed community improvements.

A few brief excerpts from recent editorials follow:

Washington Post: States will lose about 28 percent of their federal transportation funds once the HTF becomes insolvent. If no authorization legislation is forthcoming, “the flow of money will dry up entirely. States, which get an average of 50 percent of their transportation funding from the federal government, already are delaying or canceling infrastructure projects—in the peak of the summer construction season.”

Los Angeles Times: “Over two decades, the cost of building and maintaining the nation’s transportation infrastructure has gone up significantly, while the tax designed to fund the work has stayed flat.”

Seattle Times: “Congress doesn’t need to rethink transportation in the next 30 days. Its job for now is to make sure the Highway Trust Fund doesn’t run dry. States are counting on that money.” The editorial continued, “. . . a problem everyone has known about for years needs to be fixed right this minute.”

Denver Post: “Good infrastructure is key to our prosperity, and Congress should ensure that it doesn’t continue to deteriorate.”

Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA): The purchasing power of the gasoline tax that funds the HTF has declined 48 percent since its last increase in 1993. While “nobody likes to pay more at the pump,” the editorial stated, the time has come to increase the tax to keep the trust fund solvent.

Portland (ME) Press Herald: Retaining the tax rate has amounted to a 64 percent cut to federal transportation spending since 1993. “Trying to support our infrastructure with steadily reduced funding would be bad enough if we were just trying to maintain what we have,” the editorial noted. “But when we should be improving our transportation network, it’s laughable.”

Charleston (WV) Daily Mail: “The strength of the nation’s economy depends on a strong, dependable and safe transportation system. Congress must reestablish transportation as a long-term national priority.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “A bump at the pump might be worth more than failing roads . . . . Instead of stopgap measures and gimmicks, basic infrastructure spending should be covered permanently by a sensible and updated tax code. For the sake of a safe and functional federal highway system, the tax will need to rise.”

Wichita (KS) Eagle: “Americans are about to find out whether Congress can act when it must to keep from idling highway construction projects across the country . . . . Election year or not, though, it’s time for Congress to demonstrate that it can still function when it has to—in this case to keep road crews working, commerce moving and drivers safe.”

Lawrence (KS) Journal-World: “Congress can’t seem to agree about much these days, but this problem demands a solution—now. There may be other options, but for now, an increase in the gasoline tax makes sense.”

Groups Representing State and Local Officials Call for Action

The heads of seven national organizations that represent state and local officials sent a letter to congressional leaders on July 7 urging Congress to ensure the “continued solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), while committing to pass a long-term agreement on surface transportation funding as part of a multi-year reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.”

The signers are Dan Crippen, executive director, National Governors Association; William T. Pound, executive director, National Conference of State Legislatures; David Adkins, executive director, Council of State Governments; Matthew D. Chase, executive director, National Association of Counties; Clarence Anthony, executive director, National League of Cities; Tom Cochran, chief executive officer and executive director, U.S. Conference of Mayors; and Robert J. O’Neill Jr., executive director, International City/County Management Association.

They addressed the letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH); ­Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Democratic Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate ­Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and distributed it to all members of Congress.

“As the owners and operators of 97 percent of the nation’s interconnected surface transportation systems, state and local governments know that a long-term vision and funding certainty are best for our country’s infrastructure,” the letter states. “However, we cannot do it all. We believe that a commitment to surface transportation at all levels of government is necessary and that each level—including the federal government—has a crucial role to play to achieve overall success and keep America competitive in a 21st-century economy.”

The letter adds that federal inaction creates uncertainty, hinders transportation investments, and stalls the national economy.

“Our national organizations stand together to collectively urge Congress to find a long-term fix for the HTF and pass a multi-year surface transportation authorization bill. Let’s get it done together.”


Meet Keith T. Parker!

Keith T. Parker, AICP
General Manager/Chief Executive Officer
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)
Member, APTA Executive Committee; Vice Chair, Rail Transit Committee; Member, Leadership APTA, Bus and Paratransit CEOs, and Legislative committees

How many people are employed at your agency? Please describe its scope.
MARTA is a big agency—the ninth largest in the nation and the largest by far in the southeast. We offer several modes—regular fixed route buses, heavy rail, and paratransit. We carry about 415,000 people a day and upwards of 30 million people a year.

About 4,500 folks work for the agency, not including contractors. Our primary service area encompasses two counties—DeKalb and Fulton—and the city of Atlanta.

How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I started as an intern in 1992—22 years ago—for the Greater Richmond Transit Company. I worked in the planning department on matters related to ADA and did some service planning, but I mostly worked on public outreach initiatives with neighborhood and advocacy groups, work that has continued throughout my career.

In one year, I moved to director of planning at the San Joaquin Metropolitan Transit District in Stockton, California, then back to Richmond as director of planning there, with a promotion to deputy CEO. I then moved to C-Tran in Vancouver, Clark County, Washington for my first CEO position. Next I was deputy CEO at the Charlotte Area Transit System and then named CEO there. I also served as CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio. I’ve been at MARTA since December 2012—about 18 months.

I knew when I walked into my first transit job as an intern that I wanted to lead an agency someday, so I looked for every opportunity to make myself competitive for the top spot.

How long have you been an APTA member?
I’ve been with member systems since those first days in 1992.

What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy the full days transit brings. One of my very best days ever occurred while I was in Charlotte. As deputy CEO, I helped develop a downtown trolley service by brokering a P3 that attracted the buy-in of many of the city’s multinational corporations—Wachovia, Bell South, Bank of America, and so on. We brokered the deal at a lunchtime event on the penthouse floor of Bank of America, which was attended by prominent corporate leaders and the “fine wine and cheese” crowd.

Later that evening, I had a meeting with a group of riders who had previously experienced brain injuries. It was held in a dilapidated gym, and some people brought a few bags of cookies and chips to share. That discussion was all about them asking me to not raise their fares or cut their service.

The reality and the rewards of transit come in those “Kipling moments”: You can walk with the kings but not lose touch with the common folk. That’s the range of people transit touches.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource? Which one helps you do your job?
I appreciate the peer review program and I’ve used it extensively. We’ve already had four since I’ve been here at MARTA. I find them extremely valuable for three reasons:

First, the quality of work our peers bring to the program is outstanding. The people APTA sends out to do assessments are tremendous. Second, the reviews are affordably priced. I always get a great product for a relatively modest fee. And third, the reviews expose my team to people in the industry who become part of their career network and benefit them for years to come. It’s a great resource, and we’ll continue to use it.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
I think it’s that MARTA is successful despite enormous limitations. The greater Atlanta area is made up of 18 counties, but we only serve two, plus the city.

There are historical barriers to supporting and appreciating the value public transit provides that make for a very difficult environment. Despite all that, as I mentioned, we carry some 415,000 people a day. Also, MARTA is fiscally sound and we’ve dramatically improved service, undeterred by this legacy and history of severe roadblocks.

This year, MARTA is celebrating its 35th anniversary of combined bus and rail ­service. We know that our best days are in front of us, and we are dedicated to ­providing safe, reliable service to the Atlanta region.


Ramsey Welcomes Amtrak Service at St. Paul Union Depot

The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) recently welcomed Amtrak service back to the restored Union Depot in St. Paul, MN, after 43 years, at an event attended by representatives of FRA and Minnesota DOT. Metro Transit’s light rail Green Line also serves the station, along with local and regional buses.

The last passenger train left Union Depot before Amtrak entered service in 1971. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and reopened as a multimodal transportation hub and community ­center in 2012.

“Creativity, strong relationships, and a clear vision were the guiding principles during the decade-long process leading to the 2011 ground breaking. Many of you in this audience were active participants in the planning and advocacy work that led to the decision to restore Union Depot to its 20th-­century ­grandeur with 21st-century amenities for new generations of travelers,” said Ramsey County Commissioner and RCRRA Chair Rafael Ortega.

Mark Murphy, general manager for Amtrak’s overnight rail routes, added that historic buildings such as Union Depot “can be saved, be made more relevant to the transportation network, and serve as ‘front doors’ to their communities and to the future.”  

More than 100 national, state and community leaders attended the launch of Amtrak service at Union Depot in St. Paul, MN. The first train arrival triggered a celebration with rail fans in bleachers cheering. Local and state officials join FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Hedlund, third from left, and Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman, fifth from left, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

SPX Genfare Hosts Melaniphy

SPX Genfare CEO Kim Green, right, recently hosted APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy at the company’s new factory and offices in Elk Grove Village, IL. “I was very encouraged to tour their new facility under construction and to meet the myriad of new employees joining the organization,” Melaniphy said. “Seeing the construction jobs and direct SPX staff being added to the American payroll and the broad domestic supply base clearly demonstrated the multiplier effect [of public transportation] in a real live application.”

Texas Agencies Receive State Grants

Public transit agencies in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Dallas, and Houston recently received funding as part of $267 million in grants from the Texas Transportation Commission, part of Texas DOT, through the Unified Transportation Program (UTP).

UTP is Texas DOT’s 10-year plan to guide transportation project development. The program authorizes projects for construction, development, and planning activities and includes projects involving public transportation and highways, among other modes.

Sun Metro in El Paso will use its $97 million in state funds to build a 4.8-mile looping, single-track streetcar system. In recognition of the city’s history, the service will run with refurbished Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcars that originally operated in the city in the mid-20th century.

“This is great news for us because this project will give El Pasoans another option for transportation in the downtown area,” said Sun Metro Director Jay Banasiak. “But even more exciting is the economic development that it will spur because it is a permanent fixture that will entice businesses to not only improve their business, but also develop empty lots or buildings along the streetcar corridor.”

Dallas Area Rapid Transit received $60 million for improvements to its Blue and Red light rail lines, such as platform extensions.

“This investment supports a variety of customers from multiple DART neighborhoods,” said DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas. “It adds capacity to our busiest corridor and helps us prepare for continued regional growth and the introduction of high-speed rail within the next several years.”

In Austin, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) will receive $50 million: $28 million to purchase four new railcars for MetroRail and $22 million toward construction of a permanent and larger rail station in downtown Austin.

Capital Metro President and Chief Executive Officer Linda S. Watson said, “We all know traffic problems are growing, and this funding will allow Capital Metro to significantly improve both the frequency and capacity of MetroRail, which will really help people with their commutes.”

VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio will receive $35 million in UTP funds for bus passenger amenities, including public transit centers, bus shelters, park-and-rides, and expansion of its compressed natural gas (CNG) efforts, such as a fueling facility and procurement of additional buses.

“We appreciate that the department sees that we need all the tools in the transportation toolbox to address mobility in our rapidly growing community and that we are making an unprecedented investment in public transportation,” said President/Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey C. Arndt. “VIA has an integrated transportation plan in place that will touch all sectors of the city, and this funding from Texas DOT allows us to move forward with that plan.”

In Houston, the Uptown Management District received $25 million for the construction of a dedicated bus lane as part of a future BRT project.

“The demand for public transportation is on the rise: case in point, the record trips taken on systems across the nation last year, 10.7 billion,” said Tom Lambert, president & chief executive officer, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO). “Houston is growing and so is METRO’s ridership. Congestion is an ongoing challenge and so the end goal for METRO, and our partners, is to keep the city moving. We support projects that do just that. The Uptown Management District’s plan is a prime example—it aims to ease the gridlock in a very congested part of town with the use of dedicated bus lanes. It gives the public another mobility option.”


This historic streetcar will return to service in El Paso thanks to funding from Texas DOT. 

Metra ‘Customizes’ Commutes

Metra commuter rail in Chicago has launched “Customize Your Commute,” allowing riders to choose individually when to receive email service alerts and giving them the option to sign up for a variety of other emails about specialized topics.

“Our riders have asked us to improve the way we communicate with them, and we are working hard to do just that,” said Metra Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer Don Orseno. “We have designed and launched ‘Customize Your Commute’ to provide more information, and more useful information, that can be personally tailored by every individual to fit their specific interests and needs. And, based on the rider feedback, which we appreciate, we are exploring other options for enhancing the rider experience.  Nothing is more important to us.”

Building a Bus Stop Out of LEGO Bricks

Bus passengers in London have been using a bus stop constructed out of more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. Construction of the station, located near a famous toy store, is part of Transport for London's "Year of the Bus" campaign.


Reports from DOT Secretary and FTA Deputy Administrator

States Feel Pinch as Highway Trust Fund Shortfall Threatens

Last week, I swung through three states in two days, hopping from Kentucky to Rhode Island and then down the I-95 corridor to Connecticut.

Drivers in these states, like drivers in so many others, know their roads and bridges are in need of investment. In Kentucky, almost a third of the roads are rated in poor or mediocre condition. And in Connecticut and Rhode Island, close to three-quarters of the bridges are structurally obsolete. Twenty-mile backups on I-95 are all too common in those states.

I wish I could say I was visiting those states to offer help, asking their governors, “What more can the federal government do? Where can we invest more in your bridges? How about your roads? Your transit systems?”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask those questions.

Due to inaction in Congress, I was forced to deliver an entirely different message: “Soon, you won’t be receiving more transportation funding—you’ll be receiving less.”

If you’ve been reading this blog during the past year, you know that our Highway Trust Fund is on its way to insolvency—and you might have heard that last week our department announced the steps we’ll have to take when the fund drops below a safe level in early August.

For all states—including Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Kentucky—this means we’ll have to stop reimbursing them as they send in their bills for transportation projects. Instead, we’ll begin a new process of slower and lower payments. . . .

The approach we’re taking is a fair way to distribute whatever’s left in the Highway Trust Fund. But that doesn’t mean it‘s a good one. There isn’t a “good” option in this situation, and on average, states will see a 28 percent cut in their federal highway funding.

Even worse, it might take years, even decades, to feel the full damage of insolvency. If states don’t know if federal funding will be available—or how much—they’ll start to pull projects off the books and halt construction.

This weekend, the Mississippi DOT announced that, “In the event Congress does not add revenue to the Highway Trust Fund, it will be necessary to pull all state-funded maintenance projects open for bid in July.”

And Missouri has already stopped tackling projects that add capacity and help us prepare for a more populous nation that ships more goods. This means that, two generations down the line—when America is home to 100 million more people and has to move twice the amount of freight—there won’t be enough good routes of transportation to do it. In other words, when our grandkids are stuck in day-long traffic jams and stuck with an economy that can’t deliver the goods, they’ll be blaming us.

Unless Congress acts now.

The GROW AMERICA Act we sent to Capitol Hill in May is still on the table. And other bills have been proposed. If Congress passes a sound transportation bill, we won’t just avoid an insolvent Highway Trust Fund; we’ll grow the fund and be able to help not just ­Connecticut, Rhode Island, and ­Kentucky, but all of America fully prepare for our future.

FTA’s Transit Safety Office Celebrates Productive First Year
BY THERESE MCMILLAN, FTA Deputy Administrator

At DOT, safety has always been our first priority, but it wasn’t until two years ago that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) was finally granted the authority to oversee the safety of all of America’s individual public transportation systems. While NHTSA oversees all of the nation’s cars, and FHWA ensures the safety of your roads and bridges, there was no federal role when it came to the nation’s subways, intercity buses, and other forms of public transit until 2012.

We got to work right away. One of the agency’s first steps in establishing our authority was to set up a new Office of Transit Safety and Oversight (TSO), which marked its first birthday last week. . . . 

In its first year, TSO has been working hard to put in place the policies and skilled team needed to help make a safe mode of travel even safer.

For example, we helped develop a safety publication that allowed transit industry stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in on upcoming rules as early in the process as possible.

And, because TSO will be relying on state-based organizations to conduct much of the day-to-day oversight of local transit systems, we also created a certification program to help these organizations prepare for that role. We also gave them more than $44 million to ensure they could afford the training and tools needed to carry out proper inspections.

Our staff have also begun conducting accident investigations—participating in three of them in this first year—and issued three safety advisories to help keep transit riders and employees safe.

These are just some of the activities going on in TSO that have helped advance FTA’s mission to keep transit safe and reliable. Of course, there’s more work to be done, including strengthening the agency’s oversight authority through the administration’s GROW AMERICA Act.

Standing up a new office with such important responsibilities is no easy task, but Associate Administrator Tom Littleton and his team have been—and remain—up to the challenge; the men and women working in our now one-year-old Office of Transit Safety and Oversight deserve a hearty “congratulations” on the occasion of this exciting anniversary.

It’s been a productive first year, and we at TSO look forward to many more.

Both of these articles were originally published on DOT’s official blog, Fast Lane. Foxx’s article appeared on July 7 and McMillan’s appeared on July 1. Find details here.

This "Commentary" section features different points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes and views that affect public transportation.


Who's Doing What in the Industry

Rod Diridon Sr., Karen Philbrick
SAN JOSE, CA—Rod Diridon Sr. has retired as executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, a position he has held since the institute’s 1993 founding at San Jose State University.

Diridon was APTA chair in 1993-94 and currently serves on the Authorization Task Force and High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail, Research and Technology, and Legislative committees. He was vice chair for the Americas for the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) and recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Council of University Transportation Centers.

Deputy Executive Director Karen Philbrick will succeed Diridon as executive director. She joined MTI as research director five years ago and has served in her current post for the past two years.

Joyce Eleanor
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, WA—Joyce Eleanor, chief executive officer of Community Transit, has announced her retirement effective Aug. 12 following 20 years in the post. She is the longest-­tenured leader of the six Puget Sound area public transit agencies.

Before joining Community Transit in 1994, Eleanor was one of the first women to lead a U.S. public transit agency when she headed MIDTRAN, Midland, TX, in 1979.

Eleanor is a graduate of the Leadership APTA Class of 1998 and was a member of the APTA Executive Committee as vice chair-bus and paratransit operations, a regional representative on the APTA Board of Directors, and chair of the Bus Operations Committee. She currently serves on several bus-related committees and the Legislative Committee.

Ronald L. Barnes
BALTIMORE—­Ronald L. Barnes, APTA chair in 2005-2006, has joined the Maryland Transit Administration as senior deputy administrator and chief ­operating officer.

Barnes has more than 30 years of ­public transportation experience in both the public and private sectors, ­serving most recently as national business development leader for Total Transit in ­Glendale, AZ.

He also worked for Steer Davies Gleave and was deputy director of Miami-Dade Transit, president and chief executive officer of the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus, and deputy general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Doug Tessitor, Paula Lantz, Carol Herrera, Becky Shevlin
WEST COVINA, CA—Glendora Councilmember Doug Tessitor has been re-elected chair of the Foothill Transit Executive Board. Pomona Councilmember Paula Lantz was elected vice chair and Diamond Bar Councilmember Carol Herrera treasurer/controller.

Monrovia Councilmember Becky Shevlin was elected to succeed Pasadena Councilmember Margaret McAustin.

Scott Wisner, Ron Brooks
PHOENIX—Valley Metro announced the promotion of Scott ­Wisner to bus services delivery manager and the ­hiring of Ron Brooks as manager of accessible transit services.

Wisner previously served as the agency’s customer service manager for 13 years.

Brooks has 21 years experience with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District and Palm Tran, West Palm Beach, FL. He also worked 13 years with Veolia Transdev as project manager, director of business improvement, and most recently vice president of paratransit and IntelliRide development.

Steve Banta
PHOENIX—Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer Steve Banta recently was honored by the ­Phoenix ­Business Journal as one of ­“Phoenix’s Most Admired Leaders.”

Banta has worked in the public transit industry for 27 years, starting his career repairing railcars in San Diego.

Michael Savittieri

GERMANTOWN, WI—Michael ­Savittieri has joined WAGO Corporation as regional sales manager for Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Nevada.

Savittieri has more than 17 years of sales experience.

Ed Benning

FLINT, MI—Ed Benning, general manager, Flint Mass Transportation Authority, recently received the Jack Hamady Humanitarian Award from the Salvation Army-­Genesee County. The award was named for a longtime community leader.

Rhet Schmidt

PASADENA, CA—Rhet Schmidt has been named vice president and district manager for Florida in Parsons’ Road & Highway Division, based in Orlando.

Schmidt has 21 years of experience, including project management work for Florida DOT.

Sandra (Schmidt) Hill
LOS ANGELES—Keolis Transit ­America has named Sandra (Schmidt) Hill senior vice president, business development. Hill previously worked in business development management for Transportation Concepts and First Transit.